Changing mindsets: Rebecca Isaacs

After working as a paralegal and interning in-house, Banking associate Rebecca Isaacs was drawn to the challenges of a complex legal practice. She gives us a candid look at what’s working for her in Big Law and what she believes you need to give back.

Photo credit: Thomas Donley, New York

When you interview at various law firms, a lot of buzzwords get thrown around – it’s “collegial,” people are “friendly” and so on. I feel fortunate to be at a firm where it’s genuine; people come by just to say hi, and there’s a willingness to listen and change.

Before I started, junior associates rotated among our primary practice areas, spending six months in each. It wasn’t an ideal system, but it was the norm, and change is rare in Big Law. I was impressed that the firm was willing to try a new approach based on associate feedback. As a member of the first class working in the Transactional Pool, I found that it offered a wider range of opportunities – we have a dedicated assignments coordinator who really gets to know us, and the work is allocated in a mindful way that can be refined as our interests take shape.

Being open to new ideas can lead to both incremental and large-scale improvements. When I first arrived, we used desktop computers, but today everyone has laptops and the flexibility they offer. Small changes like that can have a larger cultural impact. If your senior colleagues can trust you to produce high-quality work on deadline, then you can take work home at night – or go offline to get to that workout class or take care of a personal obligation – as long as you remain generally available and accountable. It’s a sign that your personal life is valued, too.

Mindsets have changed about career expectations and how and where work gets done – even among clients, who are increasingly happy to save costs by having conference calls instead of in-person meetings. For my part, I’ve been focused on putting my head down and doing my best work. Nothing we do for our clients is mundane, and I love the complexity of cross-border deals, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. Once the work is done, I want to go home, hang out with my friends and spend time with family.

Having personal connections at the office is so important, especially in a profession where you work long hours. I’ve found a deeper sense of belonging by getting involved with the firm at an organizational level. Recently, I’ve been helping to plan events and initiatives for our Women’s Diversity Subcommittee with the goal of providing a platform for discussions of issues that include professional and personal growth, the need for female mentorship, diversity in client networking, and overcoming gender bias and creating organizational change.

I’ve also gotten more involved in pro bono work this past year – something the firm really supports and even credits toward our annual hours assessment. Once I began making the time for pro bono, I felt greater personal satisfaction in all the work I was doing.